The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, 27 August 2017

Track One:
Exodus 1:8-2:10
Psalm 124

Track Two:
Isaiah 51:1-6
Psalm 138

Romans 12:1-8
St. Matthew 16:13-20

Background: Caesarea Philippi

This site, the site that Matthew assigns to the confession of Saint Peter, has been known by many names, and has served various territories as an administrative center under several authorities. It was also known as Caesarea Paneas, due to the shrines to Pan located at a spring in the region, and as Neronias. Its relationship to Pan can be seen in the name Banias, by which it is known today. The site stems from the Hellenistic period when a cult center was built there by the Ptolemaic kings in the third century BCE. During the Roman period the city was a part of Phoenicia Prima, and then Syria Palaestina. Its last manifestation was as the capital of Gaulanitis in Palaestina Secunda in the third century CE.

Exodus 1:8-2:10

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

We are at the nexus of so much of the Israelite history and legend, and the beginning verse of our reading draws a line in the sand with its, “Now a new king rose over Egypt who knew not Joseph.” Something new has already happened in that the sons of Jacob have grown into a nation, and the host nation no longer approves of their presence. We may even be witnessing the incursion of the Sea Peoples into the life of Egypt, where not only was Joseph not known, but the realities of the Egyptian people as well.  All of this is to introduce us to the prophet who will initiate a great deal of change, and consolidate a people and their legend.

We are introduced to Moses and the story of his birth and salvation. His name is Egyptian, meaning “the one who is born.” But he is more than born in this story. In his birth he embodies the Flood Story, for he is saved in an ark on the waters of the Nile. There are so many parallels here that it is difficult to rehearse them all, such as Moses in the ark among the reeds, and his amazing triumph over Pharaoh at the Sea of Reeds. So Moses is adrift between two cultures, that of his people Israel which he will discover as a man, and that of his step mother, which he will know as a prince of Egypt.

Breaking open Exodus:
1.          What is that needed to be remembered about Joseph?
2.          Why does Pharaoh desire the death of the male children?
3.          What New Testament story takes its inspiration from this story?

Psalm 124 Nisi quia Dominus

     If the Lord had not been on our side, *
let Israel now say;
2      If the Lord had not been on our side, *
when enemies rose up against us;
3      Then would they have swallowed us up alive *
in their fierce anger toward us;
4      Then would the waters have overwhelmed us *
and the torrent gone over us;
5      Then would the raging waters *
have gone right over us.
6      Blessed be the Lord! *
he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.
7      We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; *
the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
8      Our help is in the Name of the Lord, *
the maker of heaven and earth.

In this psalm we see the usual Israelite proclivity for connecting the waters, here “the raging waters,” and death, or the threat of death. As a thanksgiving psalm it looks back to Israel’s salvation at the Sea of Reeds. It also preserves a rubric.

            “If the Lord had not been on our side,*
            (let Israel now say;)
            If the Lord had not been on our side.”

This psalm, however, preserves not only the Egyptian adventure, but the trauma of the Babylonian conquest of Judah as well. The raging waters went over the hosts of Pharaoh, and perhaps the implicit prayer here is that those same waters might engulf the Babylonian enemy as well. The final blessing, “Our help is in the Name of the Lord…” is common language in other songs of assent, as is this one. The people are bidden to see their relationship with YHWH and God’s efforts on their behalf.

Breaking open Psalm 124:
1.     What do the raging waters symbolize?
2.     What are the raging waters in your life?
3.    How do you deal with them?


Track Two:

First Reading: Isaiah 51:1-6

Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
you that seek the Lord.
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father
and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
but I blessed him and made him many.
For the Lord will comfort Zion;
he will comfort all her waste places,
and will make her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.

Listen to me, my people,
and give heed to me, my nation;
for a teaching will go out from me,
and my justice for a light to the peoples.
I will bring near my deliverance swiftly,
my salvation has gone out
and my arms will rule the peoples;
the coastlands wait for me,
and for my arm they hope.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and those who live on it will die like gnats;
but my salvation will be for ever,
and my deliverance will never be ended.

This text is a good example of how scribal error or editing can disrupt what was the natural flow of a pericope. Klaus Westermann reconstructs the three strophes of the reading in the following manner:

Strophe One:
Verses: 51:1a, 50:10, 50:11 – “Hearken to me, you who pursue deliverance, you who seek YHWH.”

Strophe Two:
Verses: 51:4-6 – “Give heed to me, [you peoples], Give ear to me, you [nations].”

Strophe Three:
Verses: 51:7a, 1a, 2, 7b, 8 – “Hearken to me, you who know salvation, you people in whose heart is my teaching.”

Our reading contains, it appears, only two of the strophes, although bits of strophe three are included in the standard construction of the text. The prophet differentiates between various peoples – those who are in pursuit of YHWH and those who already know salvation. The second strophe addresses the nations or the peoples as well, just as the Servant, whose song is related to these verses, does in 42:3 and following. The first strophe is acquainted with the terrors of the exile. If you can, go to 50:10-11 to see the verses that Westermann sees as related to this text. In strophe 2 we have a word of salvation and deliverance, and in the final strophe notes of the covenant with Abraham and Sarah, and God’s faithfulness to that promise.

Breaking open the Isaiah:
1.     What is the difference between those who seek and those who know?
2.     Which are you?
3.    What have you found out about or know about God?

Psalm 138 Confitebor tibi

     I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; *
before the gods I will sing your praise.
2      I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name, *
because of your love and faithfulness;
3      For you have glorified your Name *
and your word above all things.
4      When I called, you answered me; *
you increased my strength within me.
5      All the kings of the earth will praise you, O Lord, *
when they have heard the words of your mouth.
6      They will sing of the ways of the Lord, *
that great is the glory of the Lord.
7      Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; *
he perceives the haughty from afar.
8      Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.
9      The Lord will make good his purpose for me; *
Lord, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands.

The first verse of the psalm alerts us to this as a thanksgiving psalm, thanksgiving for being rescued from some enemy. The second half of the first verse does present us with a problem, however. Is the reference to “the gods” a left-over bit from a polytheistic passage, or is it a phrase of confrontation with the old beliefs? YHWH is praised in defiance of the old gods. The individual giving thanks so expands the world of praise of God to include not only the psalmist’s own experience, but includes also “the kings of the earth” as well. Perhaps this is a sermon on the influence that one can have in promoting God’s word in an individual life – a witness to God’s saving help.

Breaking open the Psalm 138:
1.     For what do you need to give thanksgiving?
2.     How does your individual relationship with God serve as a witness to others?
3.    How do you thank God for the gifts of life?

Second Reading: Romans 12:1-8

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Having made his point about God’s intentions for both Gentile and Jew, Paul now turns to what life in Christ must be like. Both body and mind become something new in this new life. The body is a “living sacrifice”, and the mind is “renewed.” All of this makes possible a discernment of God’s will, and the ability to effect that will. Having welded the Jew and the Gentile into the body dwelling in Christ, Paul then begins the process of differentiation. What shall this new body – ready for sacrifice and service, and this new mind – reminded with God’s will, how shall these renewed entities serve? Paul serves up a list of possibilities – prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and compassion. The choice is in the context of how the Spirit enables us. The mission is common, but the service is individual.

Breaking open Romans:
1.     How are the Jews still God’s people?
2.     How can Christians honor that?
3.    How are we related to Israel?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 16:13-20

When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

This is a singular event, the confession of Peter as to the true nature of the Jesus that they have been following. For the readers of Mark, Peter’s confession is a stark new reality and bit of information. Matthew, however, has prepared us for this through the use of the stories of Israel and their connections to the Jesus story. It might be best for readers and preachers to let the story stop here – firm in Peter’s faith and primacy. We know what happens in the pericope that follows, but we need to suspend that knowledge and mine Peter’s confession as it stands in this pericope.

It is not only Matthew’s connecting us to the full stature of Jesus that interests us here but also the connection of the believer (Peter) with the heavenly revelation about Jesus. This connection elevates Peter into a primacy – a model of Christian acceptance and acknowledgement of Jesus the Messiah. Matthew sets this confession in the midst of many confessions, “John the Baptist, Elijah, or Jeremiah.” This might be a helpful note to explore since we make our confession and witness in a pluralistic society. How do we do that, and what effect do the other “confessions” have on our own view of our faith? I suspect that many people find themselves in that mix. How can we support one another in what we want to say about Jesus?

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     Who do you say that Jesus is?
2.     What do you hear in Peter’s confession?
3.    What other confessions about Jesus do you hear?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller


Popular posts from this blog

The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 5, 6 June 2021

The Day of Pentecost, Whitsunday, 23 May 2021

The Second Sunday of Advent, 6 December 2020